Counseling, discipleship advance at NOBTS

NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary trustees approved a number of initiatives during their April 16 meeting to enhance the school's counseling/social work program and the Christian education division's study of discipleship.

During their spring meeting a year ago, trustees created a new academic division of church and community ministries for the counseling and social work programs. Last December, the board approved the creation of a counseling center to serve as a resource for NOBTS students and people in the surrounding neighborhoods. The counseling center also will provide NOBTS counseling students with a place to fulfill their counseling practicum hours.

Trustees followed these actions by officially naming the center and approving a timeline for its opening. The Leeke Magee Christian Counseling Center bears the name of Leeke Magee, a Louisiana Baptist and NOBTS supporter who died in 2013. Before his death, Magee named the seminary in his estate plan, providing funds to transform the former William Carey University nursing building on the NOBTS campus into a counseling center and office space for counseling and social work professors. The counseling center will open to the public Aug. 1 after being fitted with counseling rooms and offices this summer.

"We deeply believe that Southern Baptists need to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to engage the communities around our churches," NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said. "We have to find a way to start the conversation about Jesus with people who are not in our churches and we think a counseling program centered in Christ does that and we believe that community-based ministries, again, centered in Christ and the church, can do that."

The unique counseling program at NOBTS provides the educational background needed to achieve state licensure. Currently, NOBTS is the only SBC seminary offering a licensure track in counseling. And while many NOBTS counseling graduates serve as church-based counselors, others have sought employment in nonprofit organizations and private Christian counseling groups in order to reach those outside the church.

Ian Jones, chairman of the church and community ministries division, said all students in the program are committed to biblically-based ministry and are involved in taking the Gospel to hurting people.

"Christ challenged believers to be salt and light in the world 'so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven,'" Jones said, referencing Mattnew 5:16. "The division of church and community ministries is committed to training students with the skill sets necessary to help churches connect with their communities through counseling and social ministries, building up the church and bringing the transforming power of the Gospel into the world."

"The new Leeke Magee Christian Counseling Center will be a significant part of this ministry," Jones said, "as students are trained to provide an array of biblical, effective and accessible counseling services to individuals, couples and families in the greater New Orleans community."

In a related vote, trustees elected Kevin Brown as assistant professor of church and community ministries. Brown brings a wealth of experience in church-related community work in New Orleans to his new role at the seminary. Brown will occupy the newly-formed Caskey Chair of Church and Community Ministries.

"The appointment of Kevin Brown is evidence of the commitment that the seminary trustees, administration and faculty have to prepare ministers to engage actively and organically with local communities," Jones said. "He has a heart for the Gospel and a biblical commitment to bring its message to people who are often overlooked and neglected through church-driven programs of ministry-based evangelism."

Brown holds a master of social work degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Wheaton College. He currently is studying in the doctor of philosophy in urban studies program at the University of New Orleans. For the past 16 years, Brown has served as executive director of the Trinity Christian Community, a faith-based nonprofit in New Orleans' Hollygrove neighborhood.

In addition to his work in ministry and community development, Brown has taught pastoral counseling at the School of Urban Missions in New Orleans and served as a field placement supervisor for master of social work students at Tulane University.

Following Brown's election, Kelley noted that Brown has spent "most of his life doing church-based community ministry. He has worked with justice issues, education issues, violence, job training and poverty issues and how the community of Christ can address needs in the urban context.

"Southern Baptists have to learn how to be effective and fruitful in an urban context," Kelley said.

Along with the outward focus of the counseling and social work program, trustees launched an initiative to help foster spiritual growth and discipleship in the local church. The creation of the Center for Discipleship and Spiritual Formation was approved by trustees to assist the work of the school's division of Christian education.

At a time when some Christian colleges and seminaries are shifting away from Christian education programs, NOBTS is seeking to strengthen that area. The center will conduct research in discipleship strategies, collaborate with pastors and Christian education practitioners and host conferences and training events. The first discipleship conference is tentatively scheduled for next fall.

"The need for strategic and comprehensive discipleship in our local churches has been a growing concern for several decades as our churches have plateaued and declined. NOBTS is committed to addressing the concern," said Randy Stone, chairman of the division of Christian education. "The Center for Discipleship and Spiritual Formation will prioritize training for church and lay leaders, research and writing in the field, as well as encouraging and resourcing staff members and ministry leaders serving in discipleship and Christian education vocations."

NOBTS provost Steve Lemke added, "The Great Commission calls upon us to baptize new disciples, but it doesn't stop there. It calls upon us to disciple them and teach them all things that God has commanded us. The passion of the new Center for Discipleship and Spiritual Formation is to accomplish that commandment through our Baptist churches.


Gary Myers is director of public relations for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

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